Men’s basketball revs up for electrifying season


Courtesy of GVSU Athletics

Holly Bihlman, Staff Writer

As most of Grand Valley State University’s spring sports are trickling back into the spotlight, GVSU’s men’s basketball team has been preparing for a season the NCAA is sure to notice this year. Last season ended with the heartbreaking news of the team not making the NCAA Tournament despite their over-qualifying stats. Some of the seniors on the team have made it their goal to show the NCAA what they’re really made of. 

Off to a stellar start, the boys won their first weekend of games Jan. 9-10 against Saginaw Valley, being one of two teams that left the weekend 2-0. The first game ended with a score of 76-59 and the second 72-67.

However, this past weekend’s games in Ashland broke their winning streak on Saturday. They won their first game against the Eagles 65-52 and lost the second by four points at 61-65.

With limited practice over the summer and all pre-season, numerous challenges have led the team to be working twice as hard with individual practices and workouts. Seniors Jake Van Tubbergen and Christian Negron both see room for improvement as the season progresses, which can only mean the team is sure to impress. 

One of the more unusual challenges presented by COVID-19 is quieter games. Fans have a tendency to dramatically change the atmosphere, so without them, the games don’t quite have the same energy. Head coach Ric Wesley and his team have been working on adapting their game mentality without an audience. 

“We preach the importance all the time to the guys about self-motivation,” Wesley said. “Even when we go on the road we might go to a place where we have no fans for us, so it’s important to support each other and find that fire within.”

When a player’s mental game has to be just as strong as their physical game, a whole new set of struggles comes into play. Wesley has created a team of guys that care about the game as well as each other, so they can always lean on their teammates when their families aren’t able to cheer them on.

Van Tubbergen, has stepped up to become a star on this Lakers team, receiving GLIAC South Preseason Player of the Year and NABC All-American Honors last season. His role in keeping the team motivated and on their toes becomes just that much harder when their support system is down. 

“He’s sort of ascended to another level now and he’s worked really hard to get there,” Wesley said. “He sets a tone and a standard that everybody’s trying to get to. Everybody benefits from the strength and confidence that that player provides.”

Van Tubbergen, being the senior leader figure on the team, plans to use his teammates and the love of the game to motivate their season. The relationships within the team can hopefully push them past their competition.

“That’s when we really try to rely on each other for that support,” Van Tubbergen said. “Basically, we look at ourselves as one big family all trying to accomplish the same goal, and that’s really a bond like no other. When somebody’s down, somebody else will be there to pick them right back up.”

Negron, who is a senior this year alongside Van Tubbergen, just received GLIAC South Player of the Week for his outstanding performance this season. It’s always difficult for a GVSU athlete to play their final year as a Laker. For Negron, it’s even harder without his mom being in the crowd to cheer him on. 

“I hear a lot of voices in the crowd, but I can always pick out my mom’s voice because it’s just so distinct,” Negron said. “It doesn’t matter how many people are at the game, a big or a small crowd, I can literally always hear her voice. I know she’s missing it and I can only imagine all the other people that just love coming to every single game.” 

Despite missing their families’ voices in the audience, the guys still have games to play and a season to prove themselves. The first few games of the season may already be over, but the team is still looking to improve themselves. 

“We’ve shown glimpses of some of the things we can do in our games,” Van Tubbergen said. “However, I think we have yet to put it all together, and if we just keep on working, it will all come together.”

Their exclusion from last year’s NCAA Tournament plays a huge role in fueling this year’s motivation. Wesley and his team are not only focused on improving themselves on the court but also making it back to the NCAA Tournament after the disappointing end to last season.

“We didn’t get an at-large bid despite the fact that we won 22, 23 games,” Wesley said. “We won the south division, clearly one of the top teams in our region. It was really an injustice to our team. It just really felt very unfair.”

The end of their season last year is still fresh on everyone’s minds. This season, however, they have a new outlook and motto.

“We’re basically calling it a revenge tour,” Negron said. “It’s kind of like the unwritten mantra in our program right now, that we left it up to chance last year even though we felt like we got cheated. It didn’t make any sense to us, so we have to do our best to not leave it up to chance again.”

Frustration and confusion by the conclusion to last season, COVID-19 regulations, crowd noises and challenging matchups don’t stand a chance against the determination and fight the Lakers have in them. The game plan is to accept every challenge head-on, work together and rely on each other for what’s sure to be an outstanding season for the basketball team. 

“I think it’s either this: we win our conference, we make the tournament, or bust,” said Van Tubbergen.